Gamma Hungry: Nuclear Waste Clean Up With Synthetic Biology
Gamma Hungry: Nuclear Waste Clean Up With Synthetic Biology
Environmental Decontamination Of Nuclear Waste Using Biology!
Environmental Decontamination Of Nuclear Waste Using Biology! Read more
About this project
Project Gamma Hungry is a scientific experiment using synthetic biology to decontaminate and remove nuclear waste.
The primary goal of this Kickstarter is to develop a proof of concept for cleaning up nuclear waste left behind in the wake of devastating incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. This Kickstarter is not about consumer-facing goods.
Project Gamma Hungry is a scientific endeavor, and the initial goal is to build a bioreactor prototype with genetically engineered fungi to remove Uranium nuclear waste from isolated water sources.
A normal human is exposed to about 4 mSv (4 microsieverts) of radiation every year--everything on earth, even you, emits trace amounts of radiation. But it’s pretty common knowledge that exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation has negative health effects.
Take Chernobyl. Hundreds of victims in the irradiated zone died in the aftermath, but the World Health Organization believes hundreds of thousands more have a higher risk of cancer now as a result of the accident. The half-life of some of the resultant radioactive particles is incredibly long, in some cases: 20,000 years long. That means that humans won't be able to inhabit areas heavily impacted by the Chernobyl disaster for 20,000 years: a portion of the inhabitable Earth has been cleaved off.
More of these accidents will likely happen. There are over 430 commercial nuclear power reactors in 31 countries with about 70 more reactors under construction. Everyone will tell you that the probability is low that something will happen, but what about the damages that have already occurred to nuclear power plants in the US? Despite the Fukushima incident on most people’s minds, more recently on February 14, 2014, there was a leak at the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) uranium repository.
Even small leaks can have a huge effect by increasing the risk for cancer. Cancer is a horrific disease, killing 600,000, and afflicting about 1.7 million new people in America alone every year. We don't want these rates going up. We need them to go down. We can help.
We need a real, bankable solution in case something goes awry. Project Gamma Hungry offers a step towards such a solution.
Isn't it time we did something? Get some of the nuclear waste out of the environment? Or at least, prepare for the possibility of larger and more devastating accidents?
The Gamma Hungry Solution
Our solution starts with the fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum that was found growing in the Chernobyl wastelands. In 2007, Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientist Ekaterina Dadachova reported experimental evidence that this organism utilizes a special melanin pigment to convert radiation into cellular energy, similar to the way plants use green pigments to convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis.
Not only can this fungus convert radiation to living energy, but it can survive and flourish in the extreme conditions of a nuclear wasteland.
Why does it matter? This phenomenon matters because it can be combined with other biological phenomena to produce a useful biological mechanism. We will use this fungus in combination with genes from the bacteria Shewanella oneidensis.
S. oneidensis can electrically reduce metal ions in the environment and transform electrical energy into metabolic energy. By engineering the C. sphaerospermum fungus with this electron transport pathway, we can transport the electrons drawn from gamma radiation from fungi to an electrode.
If we transform this pathway into the C. sphaerospermum fungus that can survive and utilize radiation, we get an organism that survives in and utilizes radiation and can reduce metal ions.
But how does this really help with remediation? The Mtr pathway has been shown to reduce soluble Uranium (VI) to insoluble Uranium (IV). This means that the engineered fungus will survive the harsh conditions, grow around radiation sources, and reduce the difficult-to-remove Uranium. From there, we need to draw out the soluble nuclear waste.
In essence, the engineered fungus enables Uranium removal and storage
For more detail about the science behind this project, please visit our website!
Where do we work?
We have partnered with Berkeley Biolabs, who provide us laboratory space. The mission of Berkeley Biolabs is to accelerate biotech innovation through a collaborative, high throughput approach to scientific discovery and business development. Berkeley Biolabs enables scientists and biotech entrepreneurs to research and develop their products by providing economical lab facilities, a large biotech community and a host of services to accelerate their success.
Project Gamma Hungry is divided into three phases: research, development, and commercialization. In the research phase, genetic engineering will be carried out on the radiotrophic fungi C. sphaerospermum to transform the electrogenic pathway from S. oneidensis. The engineered C. sphaerospermum will be tested for Uranium reduction and energy production from radiation from a Cs137 gamma source.
We are bringing this idea to Kickstarter because we want to present a solution to the world. It is our world. We broke it. We need to investigate a new way to fix it. We are asking Earth for the financial support to complete the genetic engineering and test my hypothesis. Your support will be used for research and development. We are issuing a call to arms for the support required to test the theory that may help in restoring what has been broken.
Our Thoughts on Nuclear Energy
Now, you’re probably thinking, "well, if all this fallout is so bad, then why do we use nuclear energy in the first place?” It is a legitimate question. The answer: because nuclear energy is efficient, and totally cool. We don’t want to convince you that nuclear energy is bad or wrong or immoral; we just want to test a process for cleaning up our mess in case nuclear facilities make a mistake.
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Our Kickstarter video was made with footage from outside sources. We do not own the rights to the footage. The source material can be found here:
Risks and challenges
We are endeavoring to adapt nature to fit our purposes. This adaption requires genetic transformation. But biology can be complicated. Sometimes genetic transformation can be a bit tricky. The biological pieces work in their respective organisms, and genetic transformation has been shown possible in the target fungus. With further research, we are confident we can perform the required transformation.
For a more detailed list of the risks and complications, please visit our site.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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